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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pick Up America... Transforming Communities (and picking up their trash too!)

     For some reason last year, Pick Up America decided to make their way through Ohio and Cincinnati, rather than to continue along what probably would have been a more deliberate route through Kentucky, on their (yes) coast-to-coast trash pickup. The first trash pick up to attempt this insane goal started with two visionaries named Jeff Chen and Davey Rogner.

     Their vision is a lot of things. It is, of course, that we become zero waste. But if being wasteful is just a symptom- then consumerism, distracting media, and irresponsible corporations might be the actual diseases. In their vision, we are communities that stand together and don't let these entities confuse and distort our moral fibers. The entities of mass media and corporations might exist, then, only to encourage social responsibility and ecological stewardship.

     Whatever the cause, the effects of this group are unmeasurable. You could look up the ridiculous amounts of trash they have picked up on their website (oh my gawd, Cincinnati, way to embarass the crap out me by the way... the trash here is reeee-diculous!). What you can't measure is the particular ways that they've impacted everyone they meet along their adventure.

10/10/10 'nati work party, on the day that I met Pick Up America. That's me holding the 5.
     My personal experience with this group has transformed my life. When I met them at the 10/10/10 'nati work party, I was just beginning my work as a climate activist. I asked them to present at UC, and within a week student interest in my student group LEAP spiked. A few weeks after that, Danny Berchenko (far left in the pic) spoke to our group. Two months later, a group that once had as many members as it did officers (about 5) had confirmed over thirty students to go to Power Shift, the largest student environmental conference and organizational leadership training in the nation. Today, these students are organized in groups to fight climate action from several angles: Move UC Beyond Coal, get sustainable food on campus, and more. Maybe it's easy to look back on certain events and get nostalgic and have "butterfly effect" conversations, but lets make no mistake: there wouldn't be over 30 climate activists (that I know of) on UC's campus if it wasn't from the community building impact that people like Danny and PUA have had by bringing together people across this city that have common goals. Below is a great video about that day (did you know Michael Jackson is helping our city have fresh local organic produce?):

     Another example I have, though a little small, illustrates the power this group has. Pick Up America had teamed up with the Mill Creek Watershed Council to do a pickup along the watershed here in Cincy which is home to over 500,000 people. They invited me to join. I spent a day picking up plastics, cans, tires, buckets, a tent, even a chassis along the Mill Creek. That day, I met Wes Duren, a horticulturalist whose company Marvin's Organics is the largest composter in the tri-state. Later, I connected them with a student group at UC, Students for Ecological Design (SED) and he has been very helpful in helping design a system for UC to take on composting on a large scale. According to my friends in this group, this relationship has been very productive (thanks, Wes!). It's hard to imagine how far this could go, and if it weren't for PUA this very important working relationship probably wouldn't yet exist. Here's a great video about that day (and please excuse my poop talk in it)

      These are only two events of many that they had while in Cincinnati. There were countless concerts, an amazing Earth Day All Day Music Fest, and of course the trash pick ups. One of the coolest events they did (while I was in DC attending Power Shift) literally demonstrated the power of community. An "art from the sky event" at Cincinnati Earth Day at Sawyer Point. It was rainy and really cold, but people still came. Here's the amazing shot:    

     So, cheers to you, Pick Up America. You not only have catalyzed a community of environmentalists in Cincinnati, but you have invigorated my personal motivation to "pick it up". I absolutely hate having to say goodbye to each of you, but I am really excited for all of America west of Cincinnati along your route. They have no idea how epic things are about to be in their towns.

>>>If you would like to contribute to this incredible organization, you can visit their website at, buy gear or make donations. If you are looking for summer work or interested in a "trash-ternship", I guarantee that it is an experience which could change your life. You can contact them through the website.

>>>Photos and video courtesy of Jeff Chen and Pick Up America

>>>One last personal thanks to Jeff Chen, Davey Rogner, Mark Chavez, Lily Berman, Johnna Jackson, and Greg Katski. Each and every one of you are incredible and inspirational individuals. I am lucky to have had the time and opportunity to learn from you and grow not only as an organizer, but as an individual. Many many thanks, and many more.

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